Jeremy Corbyn has never actually needed debate in his long political career. He has picked the issues with which he cares about and then surrounded himself by those who agreed with him, whether purposefully or not, as he has campaigned – often vehemently – on these self-selected issues. This is admirable, and as a citizen and voter I am very glad that there are Members of Parliament on all sides of the House who campaign on issues closes to their heart. However, as has been demonstrated time after time, this has left him extraordinarily thin-skinned for a senior front-bencher.
What experience of debate, discussion and argument with those who might disagree with him has this allowed? He lived an existence of having his views confirmed by those who campaigned with him and, with his place as a confirmed backbencher since 1983, little in the way of inquisition in the media. He was until this year the archetypal Morning Star reader shielded from all viewpoints to the right of The Guardian. Corbyn may have thought he would usher in a new era of debate and togetherness, because he was always left to enunciate his views at the rallies he attended, but it was obvious from the start that this would not be the usual definition of debate. The new politics was instead a restriction of debate dressed up as an extension. Today Jeremy Corbyn had to act to make his Shadow Cabinet reflect this fact. One only had to see the cold fury on Corbyn’s face as he watched Hillary Benn’s excellent speech in the Syria debate to see that this what not a man who prized genuine democratic debate. Indeed, the so-called Corbynista twitterati – who appear to have failed to learn the lesson of the election that we should never conflate Twitter and the electorate – that this was no movement underpinned by a mood for democratic debate.
Every leader has some right to stamp their authority on their party and move the party in their direction. No leader has the right to do so under the self-righteous pretence of widening debate. Corbyn tried to do the latter, and his shadow cabinet reshuffle demonstrated he failed.